Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) has publicly confirmed he is gay. While Michaud is keen to play down his announcement, his being out does still matter and the circumstances surrounding his coming out prove that.
Michaud, who is hoping to be the Democratic nominee for governor of Maine to run against incumbent Paul LePlage (R) in 2014, broke the news on Monday in an article that ran in Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News. The heartfelt article appeared under the title ”Yes, I am gay. But why should it matter?” In the piece, Michaud relates how there are those among his opponents who have started “whisper campaigns, insinuations, and push-polls” about the details of Michaud’s private life. As such, Michaud seems to have wanted to take control of the situation.
They want people to question whether I am gay.
Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: “Yes I am. But why should it matter?”
I write this now merely to let my opponents and the outside interests who fund them know that I am not ashamed of who I am. And if seeing someone from my background, in my position openly acknowledge the fact that he’s gay makes it a little bit easier for future generations to live their lives openly and without fear, all the better.
I don’t plan to make my personal life or my opponents’ personal lives an issue in this campaign. We’ve had enough negativity in our politics and too many personal attacks over the last few years. We owe it to the people of Maine to focus on how we get our state back on track.
Michaud is absolutely correct when he states that his sexual orientation should have absolutely nothing to do with his run for Governor or his place in Congress, and yet it is a sad fact that his now being openly gay does matter and for a number of reasons.
It matters, in part, precisely for the reasons Michaud outlines for coming out. There are those among his opponents who still feel that his being gay should, at least in part, disqualify him from holding political office; that because he is homosexual he somehow is no longer fit to represent his state or lead Maine as the state’s governor.
This is of course utter nonsense, and furthermore it is radically out of step with the general population’s views of lesbian and gay politicians. Yet those so inclined, particularly religious conservatives and those that pander to them, continue to feel that it is a legitimate tactic to ape the sexuality of an opponent. It is worth noting, however, that the Maine Republican Party and the LePage campaign have said they have had nothing to do with the so-called “whisper campaign,” demonstrating that being publicly anti-gay (as LePage has been in the past) now carries a certain toxicity of its own.
Another interesting thing to note is that Michaud is the first sitting Congressman to come out in 17 years, the last being the now retired Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass). Add to that the fact Michaud is only the eighth openly LGB politician in Congress today. When Congress is still struggling to pass basic LGBT-inclusive workplace protection legislation like the Employment Non Discrimination Act, and cannot even consider a federal bill to support marriage equality rights, the need for openly LGBT lawmakers in Congress and in the governor’s office of various states is obvious and crucial for advancing equality.
Furthermore, trans people in particular find themselves with little representation in the political sphere. This is where LGB candidates can in particular make a difference by being advocates for trans employment protections and wider nondiscrimination provisions until such a time when trans individuals are themselves elected.
We’ve also seen first hand what political representation can do in various states, for instance with Rep Brian Sims leading the charge for marriage equality in Pennsylvania and being a force of wider political change.
Put simply, visibility matters and as Michaud says, for future generations there’s something to be gained by Michaud and others living openly today. As such, the classy way in which Michaud has come out should be commended not for the fact that he has announced he is gay but that he is being open about who he is, honesty being a quality that seems in short supply among politicians today.
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